Thriving from ancient roots: Queen Elizabeth’s School celebrates its 450th anniversary in Westminster Abbey

Thriving from ancient roots: Queen Elizabeth’s School celebrates its 450th anniversary in Westminster Abbey

Four hundred and fifty years to the day since Queen Elizabeth I granted the Charter for the establishment of Queen Elizabeth’s School in Barnet, the Elizabethan community gathered in Westminster Abbey to celebrate in a special service of thanksgiving.

Featuring elements ancient and modern, today’s service reflected the past, present and future of a school that has in recent years risen to a place of high national repute.

All 1,295 pupils attended, together with almost all staff, as well as governors, Directors of the Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s, Foundation Trustees, former staff, Old Elizabethans and around 300 current parents – a congregation of some 1,800 people.

Carried into the abbey were the Royal Charter itself, granted by Elizabeth I on 24th March 1573, and a banner that was presented to the School by HRH Prince Richard, The Duke of Gloucester, during his visit in November 2022.

The service included religious and literary readings, with Year 11 pupil Rohan Kumar’s winning entry in the School’s 450th Anniversary Poetry Competition, and music from every century of the School’s existence, culminating in a premiere performance of an anthem commissioned from internationally renowned composer Howard Goodall.

In his address, Neil Enright, 40th Headmaster of the School, said: “Today, we gather in this sacred and magnificent place to celebrate our School’s foundation. The place where our founder, Queen Elizabeth I, was crowned and is buried – a place of national celebration and commemoration. But, also, a place which inspires us to reflect upon our foundations, as much as our founding.”

Drawing an analogy with Jesus’s parable of the foolish man who built a house on the sand and the wise man who built his house on the rock, Mr Enright said: “There have been many times over the past 450 years when the rain descended and the floods came and the wind blew and the School’s foundations were tested.”

These storms included an outbreak of plague in 1603, when the School was said to have grown ‘sick in decay’, the imprisonment and even execution of governors for their support of the Crown during the English Civil War, straitened financial circumstances in the 18th century, the bombing of the School by the Luftwaffe in the Second World War, and the School’s decline in the 1970s and early 1980s, which saw it earmarked for closure by the local authority.

“Over the past 450 years, our remarkable school has often flourished, and always survived,” said Mr Enright.

“Our challenge is to ensure, in a world of shifting sands, where the rain will again descend, and the floods will come and the wind will blow and beat down upon us, that we will not fall. That we will stand firm on our foundations and draw strength from our roots, spread deep and wide, and meet the bold assertion of our Charter that we will be: ‘one Common Grammar School in or near the town of Barnet… for the education, bringing up and instruction of boys and youth…… and the same to continue forever’.”

The service covered four broad themes of: foundations; challenges; service to others and hope for the future.

It was conducted by The Right Reverend Anthony Ball, Canon in Residence, and sung by QE’s Chamber Choir, with guest singers from the staff, Old Elizabethans, and St Albans High School for Girls, all conducted by Director of Music Ruth Partington. The School Orchestra was conducted by Caroline Grint, QE’s Assistant Director of Music, and the organ played by Mr Peter Holder, Sub-Organist.

Before the service, the congregation listened to the orchestra’s performance of William Walton’s Crown Imperial and the Indian Ensemble’s performance of Tani Avartaram.

Among the guests were the headteachers of many partner schools, together with councillors, former Mayors of Barnet, and other supporters of the School.

The VIP party included: The Worshipful the Mayor of the London Borough of Barnet, Cllr Alison Moore; The Deputy Mayor of the London Borough of Barnet, Cllr Nagus Narenthira; Representative for The Lord Lieutenant of Greater London, Vice Lord-Lieutenant Colonel Jane Davis OBE QVRM TD DL; and The Lord Mayor of Westminster, Cllr Hamza Taouzzale.

After the first hymn, Helen Edmunds, Head of History, read from the Charter. Other readings were given by pupils of all ages, including 2023 School Captain Darren Lee, who is in Year 12.

The Headmaster said the traditional Founder’s Day prayer, while others leading in prayer included Mrs Emi Aghdiran, Governor and Director of FQE, and Matthew Rose (OE 2002–09), Head of External Relations.

Years 7–10 had travelled to the abbey by coach; Years 11–13 came on the tube. The Headmaster led them all in an act of rededication to the School’s mission, with each of the six Houses invited to respond, in turn, with “Adsumus” (We are present).

Before the final blessing and procession, the Chamber Choir gave the first-ever performance of the new anthem commissioned by QE, which has as its refrain:

That like an oak, it draws its strength
From ancient roots spread deep and wide.
From ancient roots
From ancient roots
From ancient roots spread deep and wide.

As the congregation departed to enjoy refreshments together, the bells of the abbey rang out.

  • To view the order of service, which includes the full lyrics to Howard Goodall’s new anthem and Rohan Kumar’s competition-winning poem, click here.
  • For more photos from before and after the service, click on the thumbnail images below.
  • For more 450th anniversary news, click here.